Image: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Tweeting your way to the White House: technology in the US election

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For a generation disillusioned by politics, technology and social media are more important than ever, and its use during the 2016 US presidential election has already attracted its fair share of attention. Through online campaigning, Facebook advertising, and debate live streams on YouTube, voters are inundated with information to help them in reaching a decision. However, while technology is undoubtedly a useful tool, does it hinder more than help?

Both of the presidential candidates have come under scrutiny for their use of technology. Most recently Hillary Clinton was yet again being investigated due to handling of sensitive emails on a private email server rather than relying on a government controlled one. The investigation which was first opened in 2015 was reopened by the FBI just days before the 2016 election, which Democrats and Republicans alike have argued was unfair timing due to the last minute confusion it will cause for voters.  Presently the reasons for reopening the case are unclear, and this publicity will have an effect on Clinton’s popularity in the polls, even though the FBI found no case to answer.

A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes

Social media in this year’s election has also been both a blessing and a curse. While platforms such as Twitter and Facebook provide a way to gauge support for each candidate and have engaged voters, they can also prove to be misleading. Following the third 2016 presidential debate, which Donald Trump claimed to have won, a study by Oxford University concluded that nearly 25% of all Twitter traffic was generated by Twitterbots. These are automated accounts that post periodically to increase traffic for a certain phrase. Additionally, pro-Trump accounts out-produced pro-Clinton accounts 7:1. Therefore while hashtags such as #TrumpWon seemed to dominate social media more than those supporting Clinton, it may be that in reality he wasn’t the most popular candidate.

Despite the help of Twitterbots, Trump has managed to write a few tweets all by himself. More so than Clinton, Trump has taken advantage of social media to aid his White House bid, albeit while making a fool of himself in the process. Alongside his retweet of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, many older, derogatory tweets have resurfaced, providing further evidence of his lack of moral compass and respect. Clinton herself has been quoted saying: “A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes”. It is possible that Trump’s controversial and aggressive Twitter feed will discourage some voters from supporting him. However, this use of viral social media could equally provide a platform for supporters to spread Trump’s messages of anger and hate to others.

Which of these two do you want to be the next President? Image: Rich Girard / Flickr

Which of these two do you want to be the next President? Image: Rich Girard / Flickr

In such a close race for the White House, technology, or rather the irresponsible use of it, has seriously affected the chances of either candidate. The sheer reach of social media gives less room for error as it’s harder to remove evidence of off-hand comments, let alone full-blown scandals. However, the US election may be affected by technology in more serious ways than its candidates misusing it, namely by it making it susceptible to attack by Russian hackers. While they make voting more efficient there are fears surrounding the security of voting machines, and also concerns by the US government that hackers may try and fabricate vote rigging to ruin the integrity of the result. Nevertheless, it will be clear only when the votes are in whether technology has supported or undermined an election that will go down in memory for all the wrong reasons.

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